On the occasion of World Theatre Day today, the writer takes a peek behind the scenes to discover that theatre is getting a second lease of life in Thiruvananthapuram thanks to a committed group of people working on and off the stage

Away from the arc lights, in the middle of plantations and villages, urban residential areas and suburban spaces in and around the city, theatre enthusiasts are giving shape to plays that move centre stage at prestigious venues in India and abroad.

The city-based Abhinaya Theatre Group’s recent haul of four Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards is an indication of a second coming of age of theatre in the city. “We were overwhelmed when our plays got full houses for continuous days in Delhi," says M.G. Jyothish, artistic director of Abhinaya.

The call of the stage is giving shape to a new generation of actors who are game for experimentations of all kinds on the stage. As a result, the theatre scene has never been so rosy in the city with a dramatic change in the approach of the audience and the theatre activists themselves.

Right from children and professionals to women, senior citizens and closet actors, many theatre buffs are taking to the stage to explore the dynamics of theatre. In addition to the professionals and academics in theatre, there are several groups of amateurs who are ardent practitioners of theatre.

For instance, Shahaana Theatres, the drama wing of Shahaana Kala Samskarika Vedi, a city-based organisation mostly composed of government employees, regularly stage plays.

“Even if there are just 25 people to watch our play, we consider it a huge success,” says R. Jayaram, one of the members. Jayaram believes that theatre has got a strong connect with the people of the city. Every other week, a new theatre outfit announces a play. The most recent addition is Divine Comedy – The Theatre Company formed to promote English theatre.

Nireeksha, Theatron Today, A Place for Theatre and Sandwich are some of the active theatre groups in the city. This is in addition to numerous professional drama troupes. In the process these theatre buffs are reviving a legacy that has seen many stalwarts of theatre make the city their home and give the medium a new direction and language.

“A legacy has been left behind by legendary directors, actors and playwrights. I still remember when plays were staged at the Attakulangara School ground,” says K.S. Geetha, secretary of Rangaprabhath Children’s Theatre Trust which runs Rangaprabhath Children’s Theatre. A unique initiative of her father, the late Kochunarayana Pillai, his aim was to fulfil the dreams of his guru and mentor G. Sankarapillai, the doyen of modern Malayalam theatre.

Lack of infrastructure

However, all the theatre outfits have a common grouse: the lack of a good venue in the city with proper acoustics and infrastructure to stage a play. Financial issues constantly trouble the troupes but it is the lack of a classy venue that has them tearing their hair.

“Even when we talk about theatre going through a transition period, we fall behind when it comes to having a proper space to stage the play. Stages and cinemas are being converted into marriage halls and auditoriums. Live art is the culture and reflection of a society. If we can’t nurture that, then it is a failure on the part of society,” says Jyothish.

E. Rajarajeswari of Nireeksha, a women’s theatre group, adds how proper sound, lighting, set and acoustics play crucial roles in keeping the audience glued to a production. In fact, the group is working on setting up its own theatre space on its office premises at Pamamcode, where it is already staging productions for the local community.

Despite the endless problems and the overwhelming presence of cinema and television, theatre has not made an exit. Instead it is getting ready for a change of scene.

When the bell rings and the curtain goes up, it’s play time again.

CURTAINS UP

* Soorya Krishnamurthy, chairman, Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi, takes pride in the fact that the week-day drama series launched by the Akademi has garnered tremendous response all across the State. The amateur drama competition and short play festival of the Akademi too have given a fillip to theatre.

* Trivi Arts Concern, a collective of theatre artistes and activists, works to provide a rich ambience for discerning theatre audiences along with taking care of publicity and management of various troupes, says Bandhu Prasad, one of the founding members.

* Created in 1961 by the International Theatre Institute (ITI), World Theatre Day is celebrated annually on March 27 by ITI Centres and the international theatre community. The World Theatre Day International Message is given by a figure of world stature who shares his or her reflections on that year's theme which is translated into more than 20 languages and read for spectators before performances.

The legends

G. Sankarapillai, Jagathy N. K. Achari, T. R. Sukumaran Nair, P. K. Vikraman Nair, Madavur Bhasi, T.N. Gopinathan Nair…

Kavalam Narayana Panicker is one of the greats who is constantly giving a new idiom to theatre.

In fact theatre has proved to be a lifeline for cinema and television by providing a steady influx of talented actors, writers and directors.